Defence. Everyone knows it’s the area the Toronto Maple Leafs need to upgrade to become a Stanley Cup contender. They have plenty of firepower up front and a very solid netminder, but the glaring weakness is the blueline.
Karl Alzner is Not the Fix to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Defensive Woes
All year long, the discussion has been about acquiring a top pairing defenceman. The cost to trade for a premier defender has been proven to be too high to entice Toronto.
As such, the focus has gone towards potential unrestricted free agents. Kevin Shattenkirk is head and shoulders above the rest of the free agent class, although the price tag has scared some away. The options past Shattenkirk dwindle quickly. Andrei Markov is likely to re-sign in Montreal, while Ron Hainsey is in the twilight of his career.
That brings us to the name commonly discussed as a true possibility for the Maple Leafs: Karl Alzner.
Teams other than #Blackhawks with interest in defenseman Karl Alzner include Maple Leafs and Stars.
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) June 26, 2017
Alzner has played the past nine seasons with the Washington Capitals. A standout defenceman with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, Alzner joined the Capitals in 2008-09. He became a full-time member of the lineup in 2010-11. Alzner is often described as a shutdown defender, exactly what Toronto is in the market for.
He is an ironman as well. Since joining the Capitals full-time in 2010, the native of Burnaby, British Columbia has not missed a single regular season game. Using the traditional plus/minus, Alzner looks like a great defender, a plus player most of his career including a career-high +23 rating this past year.
However, when you start to look deeper, you see the exactly why Karl Alzner would not fix the Maple Leafs defensive woes.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are not in the market for an offensive defenceman. The Leafs are looking for a trustworthy blueliner to help close out games.
However, Alzner’s offensive stats are a little worrisome. He was the lowest scoring regular member of the Capitals with just 13 points, outscored by Brooks Orpik (14), Nate Schmidt (17) and even Kevin Shattenkirk, who played only 19 games in D.C.
Adding to the concern is Alzner’s most common partner. John Carlson recorded 37 points from the back end, finishing second on the team in defensive scoring.
The Advanced Numbers
As the Capitals allowed the fewest goals against in the National Hockey League, Alzner’s goals for percentage (GF%) is high. 57 goals for when on the ice, and 36 goals against for an impressive 61.29 GF% according to Puckalytics.
With Vezina nominee Braden Holtby in goal, Alzner’s Corsi is much more revealing. He was on the ice for 590 shots for, and 634 against, for a 47.25 CF%. These are not the numbers you want to see when searching for a player to shore up your defence.
For comparison, the other low-scoring defenceman on the Capitals, Brooks Orpik, had more shots for (606) and less against (534) for a 52.52 CF% in similar ice-time.
It gets even worse when it comes to relative Corsi. Alzner has a -6.77 CF% Rel, the worst not only for Washington defencemen but league wide for defenders with 60+ games played.
Alzner’s PDO was also quite high. With Holtby in goal, it is expected that Capitals players PDO would be high. At 103.98, Alzner finished fifth in Washington. On the Leafs, this number would certainly drop. Frederik Andersen, though a very good goaltender, is not the Vezina nominee that Holtby is.
Alzner’s hero chart, via Own the Puck, isn’t pretty either:
Alzner’s hero chart doesn’t have any standout stats. Everything is around average, with shot generation way below average. His per hour production has been below average nearly his entire career. The argument could be made that Hunwick, the Leafs third pairing defenceman, looks like a better option.
The 2016-17 Playoffs
The Washington Capitals top six regularly consisted of Carlson, Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and upon arrival at the trade deadline, Kevin Shattenkirk. In the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Maple Leafs, that mix remained the same until Game Three. Karl Alzner broke his hand blocking a shot, missing the remainder of the series.
In came Nate Schmidt, who played 60 games in the regular season, outscoring Alzner with 17 points. Schmidt came in and made an immediate impact. The Leafs was difficult for the Capitals to deal with. Schmidt’s injection of speed was a big boost to the Washington lineup, helping them defeat the Leafs in six games.
His spot in the lineup came into question. Alzner was caught off guard when head coach Barry Trotz would not guarantee him a spot back when healthy.
Upon return in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Trotz played seven defencemen, rather than take Schmidt out of the lineup.
Should the Leafs be giving term to a player who looked a step behind and nearly lost a top six spot just a couple months ago?
Karl Alzner is going to get overpaid on a lengthy contract due to the market. The contract he will receive would put Toronto in a bind when re-signing their young stars in the coming years. Taking his recent performance, diminishing speed, and advanced numbers into account, Alzner is not the fix to the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive woes.